I suppose that a story that is so ubiquitous during Christmas time as this one needs no introduction. I can see why it has been constantly popular for...moreI suppose that a story that is so ubiquitous during Christmas time as this one needs no introduction. I can see why it has been constantly popular for more than one hundred years. I appreciate the writing and craft that goes into the story, the social commentary, the worthy morals, and the affection that generations of readers have for it. But I hated it. Yes, it's official, I'm the Grinch and (pre-reformed) Scrooge rolled into one. I have a heart made of stone, or at least something equally hard, immune to the plight of tiny, poor, crippled tots and destitute Victorian families who couldn't afford a stuffed goose for their Christmas tables.
I found the story to be simplistic, with sketchy, largely one dimensional characters, and so drenched in sugary sentimentality that it made my teeth hurt. I can deal with sentimentality, but such a massive, industrial-strength dose of it renders me comatose, instead of being genuinely moved.
*slinking away to hide under a rock until Christmas is over* (less)
This is my little girl Jess' own review (with some input from Mom on spelling and grammar). Jess is 9.
Hi again everyone! Jess here. This time, I'm rev...moreThis is my little girl Jess' own review (with some input from Mom on spelling and grammar). Jess is 9.
Hi again everyone! Jess here. This time, I'm reviewing a comic about my most favorite character, Sonic the Hedgehog! I've been addicted to this character for the past 2 or 3 years. And by the way, I am not the kind of girl that would like girly stuff. I am a tomboy. Ok, that's enough about me, now about the comic. The characters in this comic are Sonic, Sally, Rotor, Antoine, and Dr. Eggman. In this comic, Sonic did what he usually did, smashing robots! But this time, he found something mysterious...it was some sort of a prison capsule. When Sonic broke the capsule, 3 mysterious animals came out...Sally, Rotor, and Antoine! After some introducing, Sonic decided to join them. Next they went to the Marble Zone, where they found Eggman and defeated him quite easily.
Well, that's my review. I hope you find it good and please like! (less)
Note: this review is for the entire three-volume novel.
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1.“They are the cauldron and we are the...moreNote: this review is for the entire three-volume novel.
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1.“They are the cauldron and we are the deer”. For the common people, the subjects of Empire, their role is to be the deer. If the Emperor doesn’t like somebody, he is going to be put in the cauldron and boiled, just like a deer that is caught in a hunt. This is the meaning of the book’s title.
2. “Extreme confinement since infancy for Emperors surely led to many of the hideous excesses perpetrated by tyrants down the ages.” As imperial subjects, you are extremely lucky to get a monarch who is not merely sane but is also intelligent and capable.
3. Death by a Thousand Cut, or Lingering Death, is the worst way to die in Qing Dynasty China. You are not immune from it, even if you are a Jesuit priest. Better whip up that canon-making skills, Father.
4. ‘Losha’, otherwise known as Russia, is a huge empire to the north of China with a pesky habit of creating trouble at the border. It is a primitive country, inhabited by wild Cossacks and boorish foreign devils, but it needs to be placated, as it possesses muskets and cannons.
5. Russian Orthodox priests are equally adept at writing erotic love letters and Letters of State. When the Russian sovereign is also your lover, both types of communication can be conveniently merged in a single letter.
6. Russian women are beautiful, except for their noses, which stand up far too prominently from their faces. The blonde ones also have bodies that are disgustingly covered with yellow down.
7. Indecent assault is a legitimate Kungfu move, especially if you are too lazy to learn proper martial art.
8. “All emperors had sisters who were a bit crazy”. For ‘crazy’ read ‘nymphomaniac’. The great empires of Russia and China both have at least one of them.
9. All languages except Chinese is gobbledygook and every alien script is nothing but squiggly lines. Of course it doesn’t help if your good self is illiterate in any language.
10. “The tendency to insult the virtue of an adversary’s mother is more or less universal”. ‘Tamardy’ is an abuse, and NEVER call a Chinese person ‘turtle’ --- it is a grave insult.
11. Outlandish praises and idiotic slogans (such as ‘Long Live to Our Leader’ and ‘Victory to Our Great Leader’, etc.) are music to tyrants and cult leaders. Run-of-the-mill flattery will do for lesser personages.
12. Simultaneously impersonating a palace eunuch AND a Shaolin monk is surely no fun for a red-blooded teenage male, but it doesn’t matter if you can slip into a whorehouse for some serious romp. Get rid of that monkish habit first, though.
In his last novel Jin Yong (Louis Cha), the undisputed master of wuxia (Chinese martial art fiction) brilliantly subverts the conventions of the genre that he had done so much to popularize with his previous 14 novels. For a start, the protagonist of the story, Wei Xiaobao (‘Trinket’ in this English translation --- huh?!), is nothing like the typical wuxia hero. He is no patriotic Guo Jing who defends Song China from the Mongol hordes, or Yang Guo, the great xia (knight-errant) from The Return of the Condor Heroes (Shen Diao Xia Lu). Nor is he Zhang Wuji, the hero of Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, who led a successful rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty. Trinket is a bastard born and bred in a Yangzhou brothel. He is illiterate, foul-mouthed --- and too lazy to learn any kungfu, despite having the opportunity of learning from the best masters. He is also an inveterate gambler, a habitual liar, and a lecher who managed to marry seven (!) beautiful women. In another word, he is a lovable rascal.
Accidentally brought to the Forbidden City at the age of thirteen, Trinket impersonates a palace eunuch and strikes an unlikely friendship with the boy-emperor Kang xi. Aided by his natural cunning, he rapidly rises through the ranks to become Kang xi’s right-hand man, traveling all over China, Manchuria and Russia as His Majesty’s secret agent. In the process he gets himself tangled up with the Triads (in its incarnation as an anti-Qing resistance movement), the Mystic Dragon Cult, Mongolian lamas, Jesuit priests and Russian spies. At one point, he is simultaneously a top Qing mandarin, the master of a Triad lodge, the marshall of the Mystic Dragons and a Shaolin monk. Trinket has to use every guile and dirty trick in the book to manage his increasingly complex allegiances. For a while he manages to play his various patrons against each other to his personal advantage, and we are alternately appalled by his misdeeds, laugh out loud at his antics and marvel at his astonishing ability to bullshit his way of (almost) any situation. However, his high-wire act eventually fails and Trinket, a man with multiple, often conflicting identities, is forced to choose sides. Through the choices that he makes, Jin Yong questions the values of patriotism, primordial allegiances and conventional morality.
This novel was written during the height of the Cultural Revolution, and it is not difficult to detect allusions to the political situation in Mainland China at that time. The persecution of the dissident scholars involved in the writing of Ming history at the beginning of the book has an all too familiar ring. The leader of the Mystic Dragon Cult, with his outsized personality cult and fanatical, brainwashed young followers, bears a certain resemblance to Mao and his Red Guards. The story itself can be enjoyed on several different levels: as a rousing martial art romp, hilarious farce, historical fantasy, or cynical satire. Or you can just read it for pure narrative enjoyment. Hundreds of millions of Chinese readers can’t be all wrong. You will not be disappointed.
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Don't mess with cannibals, even supposedly reformed ones, especially if they have a particu...moreWhat I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Don't mess with cannibals, even supposedly reformed ones, especially if they have a particularly bloody creation myth that they insist on reenacting in real life.
“DESOIPITSJ WAS OLDER and unable to hunt, so Biwiripitsj had to do all the work. One day the boy brought home a wild pig. He cut off the head and thrust a cassowary bone dagger into its throat, pinning the head to the floor. “Bah, a pig’s head is but a pig’s head,” said Desoipitsj, watching. “Why not replace it with a human head? That would be something, I think.”
Biwiripitsj didn’t agree, and anyway, where was he to get a human head?
Desoipitsj was fixated on the idea and said, “Well, you can have my head.” After a lot of cajoling, he convinced Biwiripitsj to kill him with a spear, cut into his throat with a bamboo knife, and press the head forward until the vertebrae cracked. Even as Biwiripitsj removed his brother’s head, Desoipitsj continued to speak, describing the correct technique of butchering humans and initiating boys into manhood, instructions that had to be followed to the letter. Time and space shift in this story, for it is also a charter, a set of instructions on how all Asmat men and women were to act in the future, even though there weren’t yet any other people in the world”
2. Colonial authorities are not to be trusted, especially if they are only concerned with window dressing in their colonies. Claiming that cannibalism is eradicated is not the same as actually eradicating it. Ditto the church.
“It was a stunning moment of geopolitical maneuvering. The world’s eyes were now on New Guinea, including Nelson Rockefeller’s, and it was the Netherlands’ chance to show that its colony wasn’t just some backwater full of headhunters, as President Kennedy’s advisers were arguing, but a nation in the making, with a well-oiled government that could make things happen. For Dutch officials, the search for Michael had become part of a larger strategy: to leave no canoe unturned and no patch of ocean unexamined, and to have Nelson Rockefeller return home, if not singing the praises of the Luns Plan directly, at least saying how great the Dutch in New Guinea were. And the same for the international press—whether Michael turned up dead or alive.”
3. Appropriating other people's ritualistic art without properly understanding their culture may have unintended, fatal consequences.
“Village ambushes were associated with ceremonies meant to restore order in a world of opposites, including the creation of elaborate wooden poles carved from a single piece of mangrove that could be as tall as twenty feet, known as bisj. Each pole depicted a column of stacked ancestors; the pole carried the name of its topmost person. Canoes, snakes, and crocodiles were carved into the base of the pole, and symbols of headhunting extended out in a three-foot-long protrusion from its top. The poles were haunting, alive, often sexually suggestive.
For the Asmat, ancestors are involved in every aspect of their existence. The carvings are memorial signs to those ancestors, and to the living, that their deaths have not been forgotten, that the living’s responsibility to avenge them is still alive and strong, and that the living should not be punished if those deaths haven’t yet been avenged.”
4. Being a member of the white tribe in the colonies might confer certain advantages, but also may bring unforeseen dangers, especially if you are treated as 'the other white meat'.
“The men from Otsjanep who would have been there at about the same time were related—though I wasn’t yet sure exactly how—to the men killed by Max Lapré in 1958, just three years before, and those deaths had never been reciprocated. Seventeen men, women, and children had been killed in the past decade, eight by crocodile-hunting Chinese Indonesians (considered white by the Asmat) and five by Lapré, and Michael had found seventeen bisj poles still in the jeus The Asmat were known to be opportunists, preferring victims to be alone and unprotected, and Michael would have been exhausted, vulnerable in a way they’d never encountered in a white before. And he’d been to the village already; they would have known him and may have remembered his name, an important factor in choosing a headhunting victim.”
5. Having the toilet in the kitchen is an unhygienic arrangement, not to mention an extremely repellent one.
“The air reeked of human shit—the moldy, always wet outhouse was in the kitchen and the hole dropped straight to the ground beneath the kitchen, with those widely spaced boards. There were houses next to Kokai’s, behind it, and in front of it across a small creek, the houses were everywhere, and each one was filled with people shitting onto the ground. The rich, pungent smell pervaded the village, and I never quite grew used to it.”
6. You can create art worth millions of dollars, be paid in worthless trinkets and remain dirt poor.
“They had begun the legal steps necessary to declare him dead within months of his disappearance. Through the Museum of Primitive Art, they’d moved quickly to ship everything he’d collected back to New York—some five hundred objects in total, valued by insurance appraisers in August 1962 at $285,520. It was a stunning sum, a quarter of a million dollars in value created via a few fishhooks, fishing line, axes, and lumps of tobacco, off the talents of men who were illiterate and penniless. As the centerpieces today of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, their value in attracting visitors and funding is incalculable, not to mention the priceless cache (and hefty tax deductions) their donation to the museum must have brought Nelson Rockefeller and his family. In 2012 the Met hosted six million visitors, with a recommended voluntary entry fee of $25; if the average visitor paid $15, the Met brought in $90 million in entry fees alone, while the grandson of the man Michael regarded as one of the best artists in all of Asmat, Chinasapitch, the man who carved the lovely canoe that holds prominence in the Met, sweeps the floor in bare feet. “Until I told him, he had no idea what had ever happened to that canoe. Had priceless land or millions of dollars’ worth of mineral rights been acquired from illiterate villagers via a few lumps of brown weed and bent wire, cries of injustice might have rung out, with demands that a people unable to understand the deal they’d agreed to be fairly compensated.”
Without physical evidence, say, a skull that had been pierced to allow the brain to drain out or a gnawed tibia, what happened to Michael Rockefeller after his swim in the Arafura Sea would probably remain a mystery forever, but Carl Hoffman builds a persuasive case that he was indeed murdered and eaten by Asmat warriors from the village of Otsjanep. Why? Because he had unwittingly trespassed into tribal territory where natives had been murdered by heavy-handed colonial authorities and had been compelled by their deep-rooted belief to avenge them on a member of the white tribe. He might have sealed his fate when he bought those magnificent bisj poles that now stood in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art --- these were erected for tribe members who had been killed and must be avenged --- something that Rockefeller Jr. was aware of, Hoffman surmised, in a sort of a clinical way.
The missionary fathers who intimately knew the Asmats and their culture were convinced that this was what happened, but their reports were suppressed by Dutch authorities who would like to present their half of New Guinea as a civilized, cannibal-free colony. The Indonesians who later took over the territory were also not keen to conclude that their new fellow citizens ate an American. Even Michael's twin sister and father, who came to the swamps of Asmat to futilely search for him, ultimately convinced themselves that he drowned. After more than fifty years, Hoffman unearthed the suppressed reports, long buried in the Dutch colonial archives, and interviewed the remaining witnesses. The book ends, rather abruptly, just after a tribal elder dramatically revealed a long-buried secret to the men of his village:
“After we’d eaten, Marco, a man I guessed to be in his late sixties or early seventies, began telling a story in the Asmat language. Everyone listened, some lying down and even falling asleep. I lay down too, noticing a soot-blackened rattan bag at the top of Ber’s roof, round, covered in cobwebs, like it was holding a ball. A skull? I wondered. Although I couldn’t understand the words, and the story wasn’t for me, I watched the drama unfold as dogs scraped around in the swamp below the house. There was the firing of arrows, the powerful side-arm stabbing of someone with a spear. I heard the words Otsjanep and Dombai. Marco walked. Stalked. Stabbed again. Pulled his pants legs up tight, thrust his hips forward, not like he was having sex, but as if he were peeing or having his penis sucked. Men grunted. Nodded. “Uh! Uh!” Finally, an hour into it, I picked up my camera and switched it to video and began filming. But the theatrics were over; he just talked and talked, and after eight minutes, running low on power with no way to recharge, I stopped.”
And that's how the trail ended, cold, in a tale told in an incomprehensible language in a smoky men's house on the coast of the Arafura Sea.